RecycleMich’s app for smartphones, which allows users to collect points for recycling plastic packaging and aluminium cans, is one of our 2021 Sustainability Awards finalists. We caught up with the company to learn more about the app.  

Congratulations on being selected by the international judging panel as a Sustainability Awards 2020 finalist! Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?

Globally, 5 billion tons of plastic are estimated to have been either dumped in landfills or introduced into nature since its first invention – that’s more than 600 kg for every living human being on average.

Even today we struggle to manage plastic waste properly, which results in tremendous environmental burdens as well as loss of valuable resources. It is evident that there is a need for innovative solutions to reduce littering and close the material cycle, which are the two fundamental challenges addressed by RecycleMich.

Instead of altering processes running in the background of the value chain, RecycleMich aims to close the material circle by direct integration of a central, but exceedingly neglected role: The consumer.

Through a clever incentivization that connects the number of properly recycled packaging containers with the chance to win attractive weekly and monthly prices, RecycleMich promotes the collection of valuable waste material at its very origin.

Proper disposal is facilitated and guaranteed by innovative technological features combined in a freely available smartphone application, which was first released during a pilot trial in Vienna, Austria, at the beginning of March 2021.

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?

No matter how well a product might be designed for recycling, if it enters the environment or a wrong waste stream due to improper disposal it will be lost for material recovery of any kind. This issue can be looked at from different perspectives.

The list of negative end-of-life impacts of plastics entering natural ecosystems is inexhaustible. Incineration of fossil-based plastics creates highly toxic substances and moreover releases CO2 into the atmosphere, impelling global warming and thus aggravating the already pressing climate crisis. RecycleMich aims to minimize these impacts by encouraging a proper collection of waste material, ensuring its recovery and reintegration into the value chain.

From a producer’s point of view, further environmental impacts must be considered. Generally, winning and transforming primary resources into marketable products comprises energy use and other environmental burdens that are drastically higher than processing secondary resources.

However, current low collection rates of recyclables contrast the high demand of recycled material. That leaves no other choice than employing environmentally unfavourable virgin material. By facilitating and incentivising a correct collection at the consumer level, RecycleMich targets an increase of both quantity and quality of recycled material.

I’d like to ask you about the broader picture beyond your successful entry. ‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?

To identify and address objectives and challenges, a clear picture of the present state must be available. However, hardly any reliable and comprehensive data exist in waste management, forming one of the major roadblocks in its position in the value chain.

Secondly, the lack of holistic solutions that actively include consumers hinders the closure of the material cycle since they single-handedly determine collection rates through their disposal habits.

RecycleMich is in the position to eliminate both mentioned roadblocks simultaneously by combining digitalisation with raising awareness. By offering the required technology for and promoting the introduction of serialisation, live disposal data with a resolution of each unique packaging can be realized.

Paired with a proven concept for raising the consumers’ awareness of the value of waste, RecycleMich presents great potential to close the remaining gaps on our transition to a successful circular economy.